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Primers: Volume One Selected by Kathryn Maris and Jane Commane (Nine Arches Press)

Primers: Volume One Selected by Kathryn Maris and Jane Commane (Nine Arches Press)

This collaboration between the Poetry School and Nine Arches Press to find new voices in poetry collects together work from four poets, two of whom work through language and two do not. I like the idea of showcasing new and emerging poets in one book.

Primers: Volume One features introductions to each featured poet.
This is poor practice unless what is written is critically substantiated, and does not serve to limit the potential reading experience. It is far better to let the poems speak for themselves. In this case, there are some excellent poems on display, and they do not need any of the crassness offered in the introductions.

Geraldine Clarkson, widely published in a range of poetry journals, winner of the Poetry London and Ambit competitions, the Ver Poets Prize, the Magma Editors Prize and the Anne Born Prize in 2015, is surely almost an established poet. Here she ‘converts unspecified grief, salvation and joy into exhilarating, whimsical music by way of her dynamic and transformative imagination.’ I am not sure that Clarkson’s work can be so pigeon holed, as several of her poems, such as, ‘Podcarp’, ‘Camelament’, and ‘a young woman undressed me and’ with their distinct narrative voices are from a completely different ethos and tradition of poetry:

and raw: muhuuhu muhuuhu ph ph hmmmhu hm
she touched my lip with a shapely thumb
shhh, don’t fret. her voice like jinxed june breezes
in lime leaves. and then. her voice like rills rushing over flint
and dazzling in sunlight. we’ll get you undressed and then
we’ll see to that. just a moment now. and still
she continues to undress me

Maureen Cullen’s use of variant Scots dialect allows her to begin to work through language. The narrative voices though offer a limited range of focus and attention and are too reliant upon lived experience to elevate them beyond childhood and family memoir. These low-key poems are under-realised and a missed opportunity to extend or transcend the tradition. Katie Griffiths’ poetry far from being ‘steely and unsettling’ does at least offer a more angular approach and are less mundane. Sadly, they are intent on telling the reader and leave little for the imagination. Lucy Ingrams’ poems have been more worked upon and offer much greater rewards. The opening poem, ‘Signs’ shakes and rattles with voices working through language:

through wearing them naked as gooseflesh
still and looked for a text to hook yours to
red in the willow crowns plum in the birch
patterns of gnats looked for a language

larger than us tremor of catkins

It is this working through that is so evident in the work of Ingrams and Clarkson that makes their work and this Primers a joy to read.

David Caddy 18th July 2016

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